Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Briefing on Beirut (at the NAF)

New America Foundation: Is Lebanon on the brink of civil war? What are the implications for the region? What is America's role in the current crisis?

You can download the audio HERE.

  • Rami Khouri (by phone)
    The Daily Star
  • Hisham Melhem
    Bureau Chief
    Al Arabiyah
  • Nir Rosen (by phone)
    Former Fellow, New America Foundation
    Fellow, NYU Center on Law and Security
  • Daniel Levy
    Director, Middle East Policy Initiative, New America Foundation/The Century Foundation
  • Flynt Leverett
    Director, Geopolitics of Energy Initiative
    New America Foundation

Interesting exchange, certainly worth a careful look.
Rami Khoury has good ideas for resolving the conflict which he expressed before in an article.

Hisham Melhem
basically conveyed the Hariri Inc. point of view. And he does not mince his words.

Nir Rosen
provided excellent reporting from Beirut (by phone); especially about Hariri's recruiting, training and arming militias in his constituency.

Flynt Leverett
"one of the biggest mistakes of the Bush administration in the Middle East is that in the aftermath of the assassination of Rafik Hariri in February 2005 to lash on to the so-called Cedar revolution to leverage the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, to leverage pressure on the regime through the International tribunal and to leverage the "Lebanese democracy". It was a colossal mistake for three reasons:
1- Let us not be overly romantic, Lebanon in the post-Hariri period is not a true democracy, it is a political order rooted in the distribution of political assets along sectarian lines and the patterns of distribution are way out of whack with demographic reality particularly with regard to the Shiia. The last conversation in the world the March 14 would like to have is about "one man, one vote".
2- I said it was a mistake because the Lebanese arena is, at best, a side-show in terms of America's real strategic interests and to use the Lebanese "democracy" for not engaging strategically with Syria and Iran is the height of strategic malpractice as far as I'm concerned for the American administration.
3- It's a mistake because, it does not work, what we did is basically what we did in the early eighties; we took of bunch of western-oriented Lebanese political actors whom we liked because they basically looked like us, talked like us, seemed to push all the right buttons for us in terms of what their political values were, and then we arrayed them against people who have real street credit. The results in the eighties were disastrous and the results now are proving to be very, very bad for US interest in the region. The Syrian regime is more strongly entrenched, more powerful and more influential, certainly Iranian influence strongly increased over the last three years and this policy was a colossal failure. Unfortunately this policy enjoyed strong bipartisan support...
It is a foreign policy based on illusion rather than one based on sober assessment on the ground reality and a clear understanding of what America's interests are. And to the extent that we are going to continue to try to play this game with the so-called March 14 coalition, it is going to contribute to further erosion of American standing and influence in this part of the region and if we should be ever foolish enough to think like in the eighties we can intervene by putting American military on the ground, the outcome will be the same as the eighties, many good soldiers and personnel will loose their lives for no good reason. "

Daniel Levy says,
I'm not sure we do anyone any great favors or capture the moral highground by fating the likes of Samir Geagea and Walid Jumblat here in Washington.
I guess my starting point is, why did this happen, why NOW. It must that the government was cognoscente that going after the head of security and the phone lines would not be met with indifference and passivity on the part of the opposition and Hezbollah and i guess two red lines were crossed in the last week; the first line being of the phone network, part of the infrastructure of the Hezbollah resistance, the second red line was Hezbollah using its weapons inwards...
Perhaps someone like Walid Jumblat who certaily led this charge was keen to start the confrontation on the behest of outside forces to suggest that they need more support. Some reports suggested that some people here said "if you don't want us to sit up the rest of 2008 with a Lebanese deadlock, we need a dramatic demonstration of why the current standoff is so problematic. I say that as a background to the following:
Israel needs a pretext, and Hezbollah provided one. And Hezbollah needed to flex its muscles and the pretext was there. My fear is, that when walking on thin ice, we're not in an ice-thickening place. I'm not sure this does generate a solution to the problems and move on to another page...
... There's a real skepticism in Israel towards the March 14 movement and they are seeking a new address, maybe through Syria.

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